I learned the words first...impuestos, la aduana, los cultivos, las empresas. The factories (fabricas), corporacions, and obreros (workers). Kate had seen a documentary on FaSinPat, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasinpat
about a factory that was taken over by it's employees after they were laid off. I researched some on the Internet about worker rights or derechos de obreros, I learned of Hotel B.A.U.E.N.
It is in the center of BA and Kate and I decided to meet there for our next lesson. The building is quite large 20 floors with about 220 rooms, 7 ballrooms, and a swimming pool. There are now about 150 employees. When I arrived I sat down at the attached restaurant and waited for my Spanish class to start. I noticed almost right away a connection between the employees, I observed everyone working in their positions but not telling each other what to do. It was very subtle and mostly in body language but I did sense it. After a nice lunch and going over some more Spanish and trying to understand noone, something, someone and everyone, we asked the waiter if anyone would be able to give us some information about the hotel. Right away he said yes and went over to a lady sitting near the front desk. Her name was Maria Valle,
she came over right away and dove into the history of the hotel and all the questions we had for her. We had paid our bill so she invited us on a tour and took us up two floors to a small room filled with banners and posters
about the worker's movements in Buenos Aires. We were graciously given lots of pamphlets and newsletters from and about the Hotel B.A.U.E.N. The acronym stands for Buenos Aires Una Empresa Nacional, Or One National Business. The hotel was built in 1978 with state-funded money from the Bank de Nacion. It was closed in December 2001 due to the economic crisis of Argentina at the time. 2 years later the employees returned to open the business on their own, the struggle was immense and Maria explained her experience during this time. She spoke of the permanent employees putting up their own houses as collateral in order to pay for the hotel to stay open. The place was in shambles and room by room, these few employees began to put it back together. They worked with local business to host expositions in their ballrooms in order to achieve a successful hotel. They met resistance almost right away. In 2006, three years later there was another 7 attempts to shut down this employee run operation. There was huge protests in the streets and violence did occur from a very dangerous police force. One of the most touching moments of the meeting was when Maria explained through tears, her leaving her daughter at the hospital, who was having her first grandchild in order to protest. They needed her at the hotel and she told her daughter that she had to protest. Then with pride she told of how now, 3 years later, they are teaching her grandchild the protest songs that they sang. Room by room with many materials donated from other business and factories that have also had become employee run, the hotel came to be a fully operating business that is turning a profit. The owners of course now want it back and as I am writing this the government is attempting to pass a bill in order to classify the business as for the workers. It has failed three times before. I was grateful for Kate there as she translated the many things I could not understand, but even without her, I noticed such a passion that Maria had for the hotel. It was so obvious how much she had sacrificed for her work. The business works with every person voting for some key positions, including the president who walked in and said hello to us. The most amazing thing for me was that everyone is paid the same. The president makes as much as a dishwasher, though they do put a priority for more money to families with children. I know this is socialism and I don't know if it would work as a government, but I loved how much it worked for this hotel. Every single person we met there from janitors to everyone in the lunch room
wanted to be there. They seemed like one large family and should be a model for so many places I have worked. More important though was this concept of the workers taking into their own hands the key to their happiness. They say that an Argentinian will protest if the weather is bad and I have already seen at least 7 large protests here. That said I feel like we have forgotten how to effect change in my home country. So many friends and coworkers I have met, struggle everyday with having to go to work. Most of the time it's not something they want to do, it's something they have to do. They feel trapped. I felt trapped. Getting off work was such a relief, I just wanted to relax and forget about my day by watching T.V. or being with friends and family. My energy was drained. If I could take one thing away from this experience it was that we all have the ability to shape every aspect of our lives. For most of us we do not struggle as much as most, and perhaps this is the only reason we do not stand in the streets and scream for our rights or the rights of those who do suffer. I wonder at which point we will realize the need to protest. The need to change our society. This need I feel has been surpassed by our need to be distracted, to forget as Americans why it is so easy for us.
I have seen a lot of this city. I am ready to see so much more of South America. I cannot wait to leave for Patagonia in two weeks. Buenos Aires has been so many different experiences contained in one loud, dirty, noisy city. I long now to explore Buenos Aires in a different light, to hear a story not sold to tourists, to understand notions of capitalism that I would have never guessed could occur. From the beginning my Spanish teacher, Kate has been very willing to explore the language in the areas I have been interested in. I told her about my desire to understand aspects of this city, country, and continent and the resources, the economy, the change I long for in all the world. A social, and corporate responsibility. A need to research the effects and powers that sell our dreams and the lives we live To hear a story from Argentina.